BY BOB FRISBY, M.S.
I’m highly impressed with the ways our veterans are participating throughout America in helping communities be positive and strong, and a nice place to call home. These helpful veterans sometimes forget how important their contributions really are. We need to remind each other that we’re valued and that our services are appreciated.
When I arrived home from the Vietnam war, it was June 1969 and we were spit at and called baby killers; many had help getting through airports because of the nasty behavior of the citizens. I recall my particular experience vividly: we arrived in Tacoma/Seattle International Airport and were taxied to a place away from the main arrivals. We had a ladder step that they put up to the plane and we departed down those stairs. I immediately saw a large group of protesters (50 plus) about twenty-five yards in front of us and behind a eight foot chain link fence. They were yelling "baby killers!" and some were spitting out in our direction. I looked back at the departing soldiers and saw that some coming down the stairs from the plane had bandages on their heads, some used crutches due to leg injuries and some had arms bandaged. It reminded me of that Revolutionary War picture of the soldiers marching and carrying our flag and blowing their flutes and banging on their drums. My emotional reaction to the protesters was immediate anger and rage. I gave them what I call the "Italian...up yours!"...with the arm bent and shoved toward the air; leaving my middle finger quite obviously by itself and topping off the negative jester; while at the same time saying to them, "you ass_ _ _ _ _, if I had a rifle I'd kill the whole lot of you!" Someone probably has a picture of my jester. That would be quite the picture with those soldiers in the background. Many soldiers threw away their military medals and clothing, and tried to sew up the hole in their soul with their own thread. That really doesn’t work very well! It’s far better for healing to talk about your experiences with other veterans who were there. And if you happen to get a therapist who wasn’t “over there”, you need to remember that the therapist can still be very helpful in teaching you how to cope with what ails you in life. Give them a fair chance to be helpful, they’ve got to love vets or they wouldn’t be providing that service. And what is love? It’s wanting someone to be happy as they go through life trying to accomplish their goals.
If you’re a veteran and having serious mental health or chemical dependency issues, have your relatives and friends buy my book. It will help them help you. Reading what’s in this web-site and working with a therapist will improve your life situation. Develop a personal relationship with your Veterans Service Officer. There is one paragraph in the book that I need to share with you though:
"Providing services to veterans is more challenging given the rules that they must choose between case management from the Veterans Administration or the county case management system. In order for the veteran to be sure they’re getting connected to proper services, the VA case worker should be talking to the county case worker about provision of specific services. This is because the local case worker should have a better understanding and relationship with service providers locally then the VA worker who is working from a greater distance. I don’t believe there is much of this coordination currently. It’s also easier for a distant case worker to try and talk over the phone to solve a crisis rather than make a face to face visit. During crisis, face to face visits are more meaningful; it almost goes without saying. These veterans are eligible to apply for all the services I've been talking about. Questions are: are they aware of what’s available and is the VA case worker properly trained and supervised?"
For you Vietnam vets and Gold Star Families of Vietnam vets, I have a special gift of sorts, it comes in the manner of a letter to the editor. Anyone reading this is encouraged to copy this letter to the editor and give it to a Vietnam vet or the Gold Star Family members (be sure to keep my name on it). Tell them their service and sacrifice was not in vain.
THE CALL TO FREEDOM
I won’t lose any sleep over the words of Robert McNamara. He may have the belief that we should have pulled out of Nam in 1963; but these are just his words; one man’s ideas; it doesn’t mean he’s right.
In 1961 we saw Mr. Khrushchev at the United Nations banging his shoe on the podium and yelling, “We’ll take this world without firing a shot!” We saw North Korea rebuilding its army. We saw the great pressures along the Wall in Germany. We saw the Russians and the Chinese providing weapons and support to North Vietnam.
These events required a response from our nation. We put our troops on the line and we went at it. Even if the Nam War wasn’t one our government thought it could win, there was a response made against a perceived/real threat to democracy. There was a pressure maintained that later helped end the Cold War.
And when the Cold War was over, we had paid a heavy price in human lives: people died along the Korean DMZ; people died along the Wall in Germany; and many more died in Vietnam. These people didn’t die in vain. They fought and died for democracy.
I look back on it all and I say our leaders did OK. There is no more Wall in Germany. The North Koreans are still on their side of the DMZ. The Russians and Chinese know we won’t allow democracy to be trampled upon. All these rivals, including Vietnam, are slowly becoming democratic themselves.
The people who created and defended this nation have got to be standing and saluting all who answered the call to freedom!
With Great Respect,
*This was first published in the Rochester, Minnesota Post-Bulletin Newspaper on 4-25-95 and remains my strongest tribute to the men and women who fought in the Vietnam War.
To honor Sgt. Washington Hunter, my platoon sergeant in the 3rd Infantry Division over in Schweinfurt, Germany back in 1964-1966, I show you this write-up:
The Good Sergeant Hunter (copyright 1992)
Some people enter into your life and leave a lasting impression; a memory or group of memories that remain clear; as if etched in stone. This story is about one such man, Sergeant Washington Hunter.
I was eighteen years old and just out of high school when I entered the US Army. I signed up for Infantry Europe. It was 1964 and Vietnam was just lighting up. After basic and advanced training, I was assigned to Schweinfurt, Germany, 2nd Platoon, Company C, 1st Battalion, 30th Infantry. We were attached to the 3rd Infantry Division, the "Rock of the Marne". This unit had a long and gallant history.
When Sgt. Hunter first appeared in formation as our platoon leader I was immediately impressed with his huge frame and deep gruff voice. He was a Black American and very proud in his stance. His eyes read you quickly and he went straight to his work. His orders were always clear and he clearly expected them to be followed.
Sgt. Hunter really didn't give a damn what the enlisted men thought of his orders or the intelligence of the command; he had a job to do and he'd get it done. Whatever his superiors requested, he'd accomplish. He was the Black American's version of John Wayne. It was always "Yes, Sir!" when he responded to officers. We addressed him as Sgt. Hunter, plain and simple. I learned from the other platoon members that Sgt. Hunter wasn't to be messed with. They recalled a time when someone smarted off to him and got decked with a right fist, square in the kisser. Sgt. Hunter earned respect and demanded it. He was more than willing to lose a stripe in order to keep that respect. I know of at least two stripes he lost for striking enlisted men who smarted off to him. Sgt. Hunter always earned the stripes back, but it took a while. I never heard him complain about the process or anything else for that matter.
We were a mechanized infantry unit and therefore had many armored personnel carriers to maintain and ride in. Sgt. Hunter always stood high in the turret on maneuvers. In fact, he always took the high ground when he'd address the troops. He'd always jump up on a jeep or climb upon something when barking out orders. He was always visible.
I wasn't one to hit the beer joints heavy, and I didn't mess with German women; so frequently I was one of the few guys left in the barracks on weekends. During these quiet times in the barracks, Sgt. Hunter would occasionally stop by my room and we'd talk about life. He was interested in my beliefs and attitudes, my self-discipline, and future. He was my chance to get to know a Black American. We had fairly long talks about religion, sex, politics and war. It was always refreshing to chat with him in this relaxed be-yourself-manner.
Sgt. Hunter never could understand why someone of my IQ (somehow he knew mine was higher than the average "grunt") would be in the infantry. After one year of it, I realized I wasn't meant to make a career of it and I re-enlisted for four more years and a transfer. It took another year before my social work school had an opening. The day I left Germany and the 30th Infantry I had my last good chat with Sgt. Hunter. I was leaving Germany as an Expert Infantryman, and I owed it all to Sgt. Hunter. It was now June 9, 1966, and Vietnam was escalating rapidly.
In August 1968 I was assigned to Vietnam and arrived in the 9th Infantry Division's base camp at Dong Tam. This was along the Mekong River, about fifty miles south of Saigon, in the rice patty region. Unknown to me, Sgt. Hunter was assigned to Vietnam also in 1968.
I made it through fifty-nine rocket and motor attacks, several of which included ground attacks by "Charlie", where he broke through our defensive perimeter. Being a psychiatric social worker, I was assigned to a medical battalion at the center of the base. Charlie never made it there on foot. We did, however, receive a lot of "incoming" on our positions and were frequently scampering to bunkers for safety. I was one of the few who kept a weapon at the ready. On occasion I rode "shotgun" for the psychiatrist as he visited smaller fire bases in the region to confer with the medical staff.
I remember once traveling down a dirt road through rice patties: when a farmer managed to get his whole flock of chickens blocking the road. We usually drove at high speed, in hopes of avoiding small arms fire and the worst part of mines. In this case the psychiatrist, a Captain, urged the jeep driver to slow down so as to avoid killing any chickens. I flashed back to Germany and Sgt. Hunter before I barked a command to keep going full speed; it may be a trap! We hit that flock of chickens at full speed and kept going. The farmer was very angry and raised his closed fist at us, as I looked back through the cloud of feathers. To this day, I don't know if that was an ambush or not. I just know Sgt. Hunter would have been proud of my action.
I left Vietnam on June 3, 1969 and entered college. I began a career I now have (psychiatric social worker with severe mentally ill) in 1972. I lost track of Sgt. Hunter but always thought about him. Frequently in my life, I have used my training from him to guide my actions. I always told my wife that if Sgt. Hunter had made it to Vietnam, he probably wouldn't come back alive. He was too "gung ho", too visible, too much one to follow orders, no matter what the cost.
My son returned from the Gulf War, where he was a machine gunner in the Military Police. His unit followed mechanized infantry units and armored units into Iraq and Kuwait, and worked with the enemy prisoners of war. He was honored by participating in the Victory Celebration parade in Washington D.C. While there I asked him to check the Vietnam Memorial for Sgt. Hunter's name, and if it was there to call me immediately.
I received that sad call exactly twenty-five years after I last saw the good Sgt. Hunter. I learned he died on November 20, 1968. That same day my base was attacked; we lost two men and had many wounded.
Sgt. Hunter's family and the people of this country need to know that this Hero remains deeply appreciated. It's truly an honor having known this man who is etched in stone.
With Deep Respect,
SP/6 Bob Frisby
91G20 / 111.00
For you veterans of the Gulf War, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and other sites in the Global War on Terrorism, I've some thoughts to share with you:
1. When the Gulf War started, I sent emails to my legislators recommending that no soldier serve more than one tour in a war zone. This decision was made following the awareness I had that the more tours a person had in a war zone, the more serious the Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder symptoms; like suicidal thinking. It reminds me of the various tornado classifications of 0 through 5 and the various earthquake classifications on the Richter Scale. Movement from one classification to another is like going to another power in math. Each tour puts your risk of PTSD up another notch. I recommended to legislators that if they didn't have enough soldiers to meet quotas, they should begin a draft. That would be better than sending a soldier into the war zone a second time. And while I'm on this subject, what is wrong with having persons that are wheelchair bound admitted into the services to do the tasks they are capable of doing? I have met with many persons that were "unsuitable" for military service, that I would have gladly had in my infantry company, doing duties they would easily be capable of doing. How proud these folks would be to enlist!!! Come-on government, get with the current age!
2. If your having PTSD symptoms, go to the local Veterans Service Officer and find out where the closest support group would be meeting, and attend that group regularly. They say it takes at least twelve visits to begin to get the full value of group therapy. If there isn't a support group within a half hour ride of where you live, start one up with your VSO and get the word out to the local military folks that your meeting and that anyone who served is eligible to attend. Be sure this getting out the word includes all VFW's and Legion Clubs within that half-hour travel status. If your VSO is uncomfortable running a group with you, touch base with mental health professionals in the county government and get them involved. It is ideal to have a mental health professional helping with this support group. If that isn't possible, go for training and have the local VFW or Legion pay the costs. Myself and a VSO had a really good time helping vets in such a group for a year and a half. Lots of them reduced their PTSD symptoms and went on to live very decent lives. You have to stay away from alcohol and street drugs to accomplish success in fighting PTSD. Make us all proud and get it done!
3. If you violated your moral foundation by some of your behaviors in a war zone, remember that us humans will do things in groups that we wouldn't do alone. Stressors in combat can result is inappropriate battlefield behaviors. It is difficult to control your emotions in these highly stressful near-death experiences. It is humanly difficult, so don't be so hard on yourself. Get some help, forgive yourself and get on with a life that will make us proud of you.
For those of you who will visit battle sites in war zones where you served, or where our former soldiers fought and died, like Normandy or Gettysburg, I share with you the wise words of a civil war soldier. You could copy this so when you’re at the war site, you can read it and give yourself some quiet time to really get a chance to feel what he’s talking about. I think the quote is in the “public domain” (if it isn’t, let me know so I can give proper credits):
"In great deeds something abides. On great fields something stays. Forms change; bodies disappear; spirits linger to consecrate ground for the vision-place of souls. And reverent men and women from afar, and generations that know us not and that we know not of, heart-drawn to see where and by whom great things were suffered and done for them, shall come to this deathless field, to ponder and dream; and lo! the shadows of a mighty presence shall wrap them in its bosom, and the power of the vision pass into their souls." Written by Major General Joshua Chamberlain....Gettysburg, Pennsylvania....October 3, 1889. Written 26 years after the battle. Joshua was a Colonel in the 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment and participated in the dramatic downhill bayonet charge that is one of the most well-known actions at Gettysburg....happened at Little Round Top hill. Joshua was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions that day of July 2, 1863.
TO ALL YOU VETS….THANKS FOR YOUR SERVICE!!!!